The city is proposing raising parking meter rates from $1.25 an hour to $1.75. Randall Benton RBenton@sacbee.com
The city is proposing raising parking meter rates from $1.25 an hour to $1.75. Randall Benton RBenton@sacbee.com

Back-Seat Driver

Tony Bizjak writes about traffic and travel in the Sacramento region

Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento proposes increasing parking meter rates 50 cents

By Tony Bizjak

tbizjak@sacbee.com

November 05, 2015 01:31 PM

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday will be asked to raise parking meter rates by 50 cents to $1.75 an hour starting in mid-December or early January.

The current rate of $1.25 per hour has been in place since 2008 and is below market rate, city parking manager Matt Eierman said.

City parking officials also will ask for the OK to test a new premium-value parking system. The concept, called SpotZone, allows some drivers to keep their car parked at a meter beyond the normal time limit if the person is willing to pay a higher hourly rate for the extra time.

The pilot program will be tested on one block in Old Sacramento and on one block near restaurants in midtown at 18th and L streets. It represents the city’s first major step toward a setting up an complex system of varying meter prices downtown, based on demand.

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Parkers will be able to use their smartphones at two-hour meters to pay for a third hour at a premium $3 rate, and for any additional hours beyond that at $3.75 per hour. The concept allows people to add time to the meter while they are in a restaurant, out shopping or while in a business meeting without having to go back to the meter. Eierman said it should reduce the number of people who get parking tickets for expired meters.

If the test goes well, and the city determines it can make the system function without glitches, city parking officials say they will ask the council to allow them to implement SpotZone premium parking at all city parking meters.

“It really adds a layer by allowing people to self-manage their parking and not rush them while they are doing business in Sacramento,” Eierman said. “What we are hearing from people, ‘If you allow me to stay a little longer, I can have that dessert, or finish that conversation.’ It really promotes business in Sacramento.”

The $3.75 price for the fourth hour and beyond is more expensive than the city garage $3 hourly rates. That is designed to encourage parkers to use downtown garages instead of meters if they plan to stay for most of the day. City garage day rates typically are capped at $18 a day, Eierman said.

The proposed changes represent the early steps of what officials call a “parking modernization” program downtown that likely will include ongoing changes for several years. Some potential upcoming steps will be timed for the opening of the downtown sports and entertainment arena at Fifth and K streets, which is scheduled to begin hosting day, evening and weekend events in October of next year.

Eierman said he will ask the City Council on Tuesday for guidance on extending meter operating hours beyond the current 6 p.m. cut-off time and adding meter enforcement on Sundays. Downtown street parking is now free on Sundays. In both cases, the city would be able to collect meter revenue from people who attend games, concerts and other events at the arena. Sacramento Kings games typically start at 7 or 7:30 p.m. (Some meters in Old Sacramento and around the Wells Fargo Pavilion already remain in use until 8 or 10 p.m.)

Parking officials said the city also will look into creating “event zone boundaries” where hourly meter rates will vary, in three-block segments, depending on distance from the arena.

“Every three blocks may be a different pricing model to spread out the traffic” to arena events, Eierman said.

The city also will look into requiring meter payment for street parking on holidays when arena events are taking place.

Recent consultant studies say Sacramento’s parking meter rates are below market, and should be raised over time so that they are in line with downtown garage parking rates.

A consultant’s report last year suggested the city could boost its street parking meter rates in the next four years to $3 an hour, and increase rates in four of its five downtown garages from the current $3 an hour to $5 an hour. On arena game nights, Walker Parking Consultants suggests, some fans might be willing to pay a flat $15 rate for the best parking spots close to the arena when attending major events.

Eierman said the city is using the Walker Parking report for guidance but will decide for itself when and how much to increase rates, based on the reality in Sacramento.

“We will go at the market rate,” he said.

To protect residential areas, city officials say they will consider restricted time zones and implementation of more residential permit zones.

The city is counting on arena lease payments from the Sacramento Kings and increased general fund revenues to pay debt on bonds it sold to finance its share of the arena construction costs. The Kings are paying a share of construction costs as well.

There is a question of whether the city will use parking meter revenues to help make bond payments. The answer is complex.

Under city codes, such revenue can only be used to pay for parking and traffic management control expenses. But, because Sacramento’s parking meter revenue is insufficient to pay for all those expenses, the city general fund has been subsidizing some of those costs with other revenue, city officials said. As parking meter revenue increases, they said, that money will pay for a bigger share of parking and traffic costs, allowing the city to shift other general fund money toward arena bond debt payments.

That revenue juggling was challenged by three city residents in a July court case seeking to invalidate the arena deal. Judge Tim Frawley made note, however, in his ruling in favor of the arena deal, that the funding arrangement does not violate city code or state law under Proposition 26.

Separately, revenue from city parking garages, which also is expected to increase due to new technologies and increased use as downtown grows, can be used directly to pay down arena debt, City Treasurer Russ Fehr said.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak